On a sunny morning in July, a perky little ray of sunshine walks toward me clad in a yellow sundress. “I made this,” she says, referring to the dress, her smile lighting up the sidewalk. Amber Neumann, 21, has a lot to smile about. Now entering her third season with the Joffrey Ballet (after 6 weeks off, rehearsals for the 2012-2013 season started yesterday), her list of accomplishments keeps growing.
She’s worked with well-known choreographers like Julia Adam, Yuri Possokhov, Val Caniparoli and Edwaard Liang. She danced the lead role of Kitri in Possokhov’s Don Quixote to rave reviews after an injury shook up the cast. She learned the part in a day (“four hours of rehearsal and a dress rehearsal”). She proved her acting chops last season in Wayne MacGregor’s Infra depicting an emotional breakdown center stage. She showed fearlessness in William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated”, where she explosively danced what is known as the “jeté pas” (her entrance is three ball-to-the-walls jetés across the stage partnered by Graham Maverick). She recently purchased her first home and is enjoying nesting, gardening and making clothes. “It’s been the summer of experimenting,” says Neumann. “It’s been busy. I just started taking Krav Maga (an Israeli fighting technique). I took a trip to Canada with my Mom to the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford. I went to a lot of weddings.”
This season, Neumann is looking forward to learning and performing Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table, Jiri Kylían’s Forgotten Land and is excited to be dancing for the first time at Dance For Life as well as participating again in the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF). In last year’s fest, she performed in George Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concert on the Pritzker Pavilion stage. This year at CDF, she will be performing Forsythe’s In the Middle in the Chicago Dancing program on Monday, August 20th at the Harris Theater. RB sat down over coffee with Neumann at the end of her summer break.
Tell me about learning the Forsythe piece.
Working with Glen (Tuggle, répétiteur) was a blast. He was so much fun, but kept us all focused at the same time, which is not easy. He had this way of giving us just enough free reign so we could play with the timing and the steps. There’s a lot of improv, so you could change it up. You could do something a little different every time. There’s a certain amount of “ooh, what’s going to happen now?” and that’s always exciting.
And the jeté pas?
There are a lot of arms and things that are really intricate and you have to be really together with your partner. This is not on your leg. This is get off of your leg and twist your arms around your head and try not to choke each other. We had a really good time. It was hard, but once you get into it, it starts to flow.
Is it difficult to count?
It was at first. It was really difficult. There are some parts you absolutely have to count. If you don’t count, you’re screwed. It is hard to count unless you really listen and understand the music. Once you do that, its a solid meter. If you can find the meter, you’re fine. There’s the second pirouette section in the back, where everyone is going at a different time…that took us longer than I care to admit for us to get that. And the sets are minimalist, there aren’t really wings, so you really have to know your counts. It’s a little bit of flying without a net.
Have you started putting it back together yet?
No. Right when we start back we’ll start putting it back together. There’s not a lot of time. Stamina-wise, it’s so incredibly difficult. It really doesn’t matter if you run and exercise; it’s a different kind of stamina.
For more information on the Chicago Dancing Festival 2012, click here.
Read more about Amber here.